Lawyers from a West Midland practice will continue to fight for a farmer who secretly built and lived in a castle to keep his home despite losing a High Court bid to save it from demolition.
A judge ruled Robert Fidler, 60, who took two years to covertly built his dream home with ramparts and cannon, was not entitled to benefit from his deception of the local planning authority.
Mr Fidler, of Redhill, in Surrey, had been hoping for another chance at securing planning consent to keep the castle which he completed in 2002, and kept hidden from the local planning authority, Reigate & Banstead Borough Council, for four years behind walls made of straw bales and tarpaulin.
Mr Fidler eventually removed the bales in May 2006, thinking that by then his new home had become immune from planning enforcement controls as it was four years since the building works had been completed.
But the council issued an enforcement notice in March 2007 ordering it to be demolished on the grounds that it had been erected without planning permission.
That decision was upheld by the High Court, but solicitor Pritpal Singh Swarn, of Leamington Spa-based legal firm Wright Hassall, said Mr Fidler would fight on.
Mr Swarn said: “Mr Fidler and his family have lived in their home for more than five years.
“Planning legislation states that if someone has substantially completed a property for more than four years, then they are immune from having the property knocked down.
“This case hinges on whether or not the removal of the bales of hay – which were already in position before construction had started – were necessary for the house to be completed.
“The council’s argument is that the removal of the bales of hay was a key part of the construction. We can’t understand how that could be. Any building professional would tell you that the removal of a haystack could play no part in any construction process, let alone the erection of a dwelling.
“Reigate and Banstead Borough Council has been determined to pursue this case despite the fact that not a single person has raised an objection to the property.
“It has been pursued at the expense of the taxpayer, which we find deeply regrettable, but Mr Fidler will continue to fight for the right to live in his home.”
In May 2008 a Government planning inspector rejected Mr Fidler’s appeal, saying the removal of the straw bale camouflage constituted part of the building works.
The inspector stated the farmer could not rely on the four-year immunity period and must demolish the building.
The issue before the High Court was whether the removal of the hay bales and tarpaulin was, in the eyes of the law, part of the on-going building operation.
Deputy High Court judge Sir Thayne Forbes said he had to decide “whether the inspector was right to conclude that the removal of the bales and the tarpaulin formed part of the building operation”.
Ruling that it did, the judge said: “In my view, the inspector’s findings of fact make it abundantly clear that the erection/removal of the straw bales was an integral – indeed an essential `fundamentally related` – part of the building operations that were intended to deceive the local planning authority and to achieve by deception lawful status for a dwelling built in breach of planning control.”
The judge ruled the inspector’s approach to the case “cannot be faulted” and he was “plainly right to reach the conclusion that he did”.